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Curb Your ... Obnoxiousness?

August 3, 2011 By:
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Stooges 3? Larry (center), Ari (Jeremy Pivens, left) and Lloyd (Rex Lee). Photo courtesy of HBO

Why are TV's Jews so ... obnoxious?

There they are, primed to offend on prime time TV: A rogue's gallery of mouths that roar and rub people the wrong way.

Yoo-hoo, Mrs. Bloom! When did the nice Jews leave the TV neighborhood?

Molly Goldberg would drop her brisket if she ever encountered Larry David of "Curb Your Enthusiasm." But then, would David's irritating whine over a wine glass placed on wood be as noxious if he weren't Jewish?

It's not just TV; it's HBO: Could Ari Gold tarnish the Jewish image with his money-grabbing schemes and guttersnipe snipes at underlings (Lloyd) enslaved as his agency "Entourage"?

These not so immaculate conceptions cross the Atlantic, too. In the latest case and craze of Jewish rites/wrongs of imagery, meet the Goodmans of BBC America's "Friday Night Dinner," whose Shabbat meals are minced with more sour grapes than a bottle of kosher concord left open to breathe too long.

Take a breath, TV Jews. Or as Shylock said: "If you tickle us, do we not laugh?"

Yes, he actually said it. You can look it up.

But has the tickle feathered animus in non-Jewish viewers?

And then, of course, there was "Seinfeld," whose preening cocky contempt for underdogs and overachievers led to a jail term. Surely, he never got off early for good behavior.

"Seinfeld" may have perpetuated the urban miff that New Yorkers -- or, as Midwesterners called them, "Jews" -- are rude, crude and, at times, lewd.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Or is there?

Better question to ask: Is it good for the Jews?

As Garry Shandling's Larry Sanders character -- who had not so much a chip as a boulder on his shoulder -- said: "It may not be good for anybody."

I first started writing on the topic in 1980; back then, Jewish characters on TV were more second bananas than top-billed characters.

And even when they were in the main spotlight? Really, would "Barney Miller," the Tevye of TV top cops who left the precinct in 1982, ever have told Wojo to go back to Poland, or asked Sgt. Yemana for the recommendation of a good Chinese restaurant?

Would cabbie Alex Rieger ever have given this trip of a tip to a fare: Drop dead, you #&*%!

Sure, there have been aberrations where braying and brash characters have been portrayed lovingly: Fran Drescher, after all, made "The Nanny" a welcome Jewish interloper into American homes from 1993 to1999, lowering the boom on her boss while raising his children.

But raising hell? The new millennium seems to have milked the human kindness out of the brash "big Jew" (as David would call the archetype).

But maybe it's not all that bad; maybe, after all these assimilated years, Jews of today just no longer fear coming out of the closet, shelving the timid types as they had once been portrayed.

And if the pendulum has swung so far to the other side? Eventually, images, like water, seek their own level -- even if that level may seem a bit too carbonated with crassnes currently.

What ya gonna do, call the ADL? Well, yes, that's what I did. And Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL, had his own thoughts on the topic.

"I don't think the portrayal of Jewish characters has changed all that much over the last three decades," he contends. "What has changed is the level of acceptability for crude satire and irreverence," he adds, citing "Curb" as an example which, "when it comes to stereotypes, is an equal- opportunity offender."

Should Jews be playing defense? "We may feel uncomfortable at times with their sense of humor and their invoking of stereotypes for laughs," says Foxman, "but for the most part we hope that the audience understands where they are coming from, and is in on the joke."

No need to kick David to the curb: "We know that David's character sees no need for social graces, has no filter, and the situations he's put into are completely over the top."

All alone at the top? He's got company after all. "His comedy," adds the ADL's top exec, "is in the tradition of Mel Brooks, Lenny Bruce and Woody Allen, but also takes it far beyond where they might have been willing to go.

"Then, every once and a while, as inevitably happens, we do express our concern and raise the flag of sensitivity."

Star-spangled banter that goes too far? "It sometimes isn't funny. It is just offensive."

"Seinfeld" never went as far as David did in this season's third episode of "Curb" when he was torn between two lovers -- the physically phenomenal Palestinian woman/chicken restaurateur whose fearsome foreplay shout-outs called for Israel's destruction; and his Jewish friends on the picket line deriding the establishment of her restaurant next door to a Jewish deli.

Not that I'm picking on David; I consider the writer/actor/producer's "Curb" brilliant TV performance art that pricks stereotypes even if it's a fictional schmuck -- the character Larry David, not the genuine genius who is his alter ego -- who appears to encourage them.

Not for nothing -- well, he did co-create "Seinfeld" -- is David rightfully applauded at once as both comedy icon and iconoclast.

But maybe I've got it all wrong if one is to believe David's position: "I don't think the show is for Jews, just as I don't think 'Seinfeld' was for Jews. I don't feel that it's a Jewish show at all," stated before me and other TV critics gathered in Los Angeles.

He'd probably get along fine with Ari Gold (played by Jeremy Pivens), the vituperative and vindictive Jewish snake-in-the-broken glass whose "Entourage" is a proper caustic companion to "Curb" on HBO's Sunday-night schedule of get-the-hell-out-of-my-way ogres.

Sign me up as a judge if the two ever have a hissing contest.

But, then, their clownish behavior has some good company to bark about under the big tent housing all: Krusty the Clown, the overdrawn Jewish schpritz of a comic who big-foots his way into everybody's business on Fox's "The Simpsons," is simply sensational, too, joining the other pie-in-your-face comic cretins.

On the one hand, he's a cartoon.

But, on the other hand:

Aren't they all?

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